Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

TRANSCRIPTS

When the Bough Breaks

Air Date: May 2, 1995

 

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He's never, ever slept through the night. He doesn't know the meaning of the word "sleep." And I can just hear him screaming and screaming and screaming and--

ANNOUNCER: What happens when you can't get through to your baby?

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: There were times when I yelled.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He's making me very angry.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: There were times when I cried.

1st MOTHER: I can't go in there and--

2nd MOTHER: I have to have 10 minutes to sit down [unintelligible] explosion point.

3rd MOTHER: I just can't.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, there is help "When the Bough Breaks."

EVAN'S MOTHER: We already know that you were lying, so you [deleted] tell me the truth!

ANNOUNCER: Last year, FRONTLINE presented the powerful story of a family in crisis -- a mother --

EVAN'S MOTHER: And here you are, 11 years old, that gets a bigger allowance from her, stealing hers!

ANNOUNCER: --a father--

EVAN'S FATHER: Kids your age are the laziest, inconsiderate, thoughtless [deleted] people I've ever met in my [deleted] life!

ANNOUNCER: --and their problem child--

EVAN: I can't help it!

EVAN'S MOTHER: Yes, you can!

ANNOUNCER: --a story that revealed the problem with children can often be traced to their parents.

EVAN'S FATHER: I'll tell you, Evan, you'd have been me, you'd be dead because my father would have killed youl

ANNOUNCER: "The Trouble With Even" documented the family's struggle, using an innovative technique: surveillance cameras placed in the home, with the family's permission. The film was the worlc of award-winning Canadian producer Neil Docherty who, faced with the task of raising his own two young sons alone, set off to explore the struggles of parenting in a series of films.

EVAN'S FATHER: Oh, you like to smoke? You like to steal cigarettes. Smoke it!

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, in his latest work, Docherty searches for answers to the problems between parents and children and what happens during the first years of their life together.

EVAN'S FATHER: Would you prefer smoking the cigarette? Go ahead. Here. Have. Smoke this. Hold the deck in front of me. Go on!

ALAN HOLLETT: Okay, it's jammie time.

NARRATOR: The nightly ritual begins. It's 8:00 o'clock and 11-month-old Callum Hollett is going to bed. His dad, Alan, gets him ready. His mother, Catherine, comes in for a kiss.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Good night, baby.

ALAN HOLLETT: Say good night to Mommy.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Good night, baby.

ALAN HOLLETT: I'll help Mummy with that.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I can put him to bed. Good night, baby.

NARRATOR: But the Holletts hven't had a good night in 11 months because baby Callum doesn't sleep.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Come on. Let's go. Let's get you in here. No, I know you're not going to settle down.

NARRATOR: The Holletts allowed FRONTLINE to put a remote camera in Callum's. bedroom to monitor him as his parents try to find out why the night holds such dread for their baby.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He's been doing this ever since he was born. He's never, ever slept through the night. He doesn't know the meaning of the word "sleep."

NARRATOR: In this house, dreams are replaced by Callum's screams. This night, Alan has already been in twice. He is in again, at 3:06, at 5:05, at 5:45. It is now 6:29 and in less than an hour he has to go to work at the local museum.

ALAN HOLLETT: Oh, my little guy, you're so warm. In the past few weeks, anyway, I seem to be up more frequently than Catherine, getting him. I think Catherine's reached the point where she's so tired that she sleeps through a lot of his noise-making, which I'm not doing.

NARRATOR: Sleepless nights often follow days when Callum refuses to nap. Out of this cacophony come some pretty desperate thoughts.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I kind of reached a point where I said, "I just -- I can't go in there anymore" because he's making me very angry.

NARRATOR: Another howohold held hostage by a sleepless infant. Eighteen-month-old Victoria Brigden just can't be comforted by her motha, Marceline.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: When she wakes up at night, you can't -- you can't really console her.

NARRATOR: Ndther can her hther, Nels.

NELS BRIGDEN: A lot of stress. A lot of stress. I'm almost eager to go to work.

NARRATOR: But Victoria's sleeplessness is not the only problem.

MARCELINE BRIGDE N: Dinnertime is very stressful.

NARRATOR: And there's more.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She follows me around everywhere I go. If I go to do laundry, she's there behind me, down the stairs, and constantly calling me, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," you know, wanting to know where I am all the time. Then when we go out somewhere, she is, you know, very upset about us leaving.

NARRATOR: These families found that their pediatricians could offer no solutions, so their quest for help led them here, Toronto's Hinks Institute, a children's mental health center researching these sorts of problems. Today the Holletts, includlag Callum's brother, 4-year-old Tristan, are meeting with psychotherapist Liz Muir for a famity assessment.

TRISTAN HOLLETT: Daddy, would you help me build this tractor?

ALAN HOLLETT: Go ahead.

NARRATOR: All the sessions here are taped to help the therapist review. what was said and what was done. The parents will now delve into their own backgrounds and those of their children. Why does Tristan sleep while Callum screams through the night? The very first session delivers some clues. It starts with Catherine describing her first pregnancy.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Tristan was, like, the pregnancy from -- I mean, it was so beautiful. I walked right through that pregnancy. I ate pasta and ice cream. I had a great time. I had a cesarean birth and it was wonderful. And -- it -- and I wasn't with him. I spent the first three months throwing up.

NARRATOR: Catherine and Callum began their relationship in a difficult pregnancy that brought a painful delivery -- a troubling start for Catherine's second son.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I can remember the very first thing I said to Callum the very first second I saw him. I said, "You little bugger, you put me through hell."

NARRATOR: Eleven months later, she feels distanced from her son.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He never cuddles. You almost feel it's, like, "Here I'm giving you so much, buddy, and you never give me anything back but a scream."

LIZ MUIR: That's very -- it's a very hard feeling--

NARRATOR: Marceline Brigden's smile at the birth of Victoria, her second daughter, masked a problem that was etched into the relationship from the very first few moments.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She's never been a baby who -- who really likes to be held.

NARRATOR: Marceline's story is strikingly similar to Catherine's. She, too, has a child she feels she can't cuddle and, like Catberine, her second pregnancy was a good deal more difficult than the first.

LIZ MUIR: What was the pregnancy like? Was she planned?

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: Yes, she was planned, but I had a very difficult pregnancy with her. I was sick. I was hospitalized right early in the beginning because I had hyperemsis, which is constant vomiting.

NARRATOR: And Victoria's difficult arrival placed more blocks in the way of their early relationship.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: I was on intravenous. I couldn't hold the baby because I had a catheter and I had an I.V. They took the baby at night for the first -- I was in hospital for four nights with her, so, yeah, it was pretty rough.

NARRATOR: The children are put through a series of tests and it turns out they are all developing as they should physically, but not emotionally. The focus then turns to the relationship they have formed with their mothers. This is the "strange situation" test.

Victoria has been left in the room with a friendly stranger. When Marceline returns, the quality of the relationship is measured by how easily they cuddle, how quickly the child is settled, how close they seem.

The conclusion is these children suffer from insecure attachment.

It was the late British psychiatrist, John Bowlby, who developed the theory of attachment. He believed that children who didn't fully connect with their mother carried a burden into later life. He studied how orphans behaved and noticed the same anxieties in children where the separation from the parents wasn't physical but emotional.

LIZ MUIR: There were certain behavior or symptoms, you might call them, of early infancy and young childhood, such as difficulty in sleeping, difficulty in eating, tantruming and then clinging, and difficulties with separating from the parents.

They're all behaviors which engage the parents. And what he was saying was it was odd because, in fact, these children had their parents with them, so the parents weren't gone -- like, they weren't abandoned children, but that nevertheless there was a separation anxiety, so that there would be something in the interaction which was making children anxious about their relationship with their parents and anxiously attached.

NARRATOR: Bowlby estimated that 40 percent of children were anxiously or insecurely attached and more recent studies in North America have turned up similar results.

Out of Bowlby's beliefs came a new theory that sought to explain how problems in adult life could be traced to how cbildren were handled in the first years of life. In a new book, New York psychologist Robert Karen has reviewed Bowlby's studies and all those that have come since.

ROBERT KAREN: The bond we form with our mother and father is one of the primary motivating forces in our lives. I think parents, and society in general, grossly underestimates the power of early reladonships, how much babies love, how much they need to be loved, how really intelligent they are about reladonships, how much they feel, how much they experience, how much they pick up what goes on between the lines.

ROBERT KAREN: Which is the Daddy?

CHILD: That one.

ROBERT KAREN: And the baby?

NARRATOR: Robert Karen and attachment theorists believe that if children leave the sandbox with an insecure connection to their parents, they are at greater risk of becoming society's problem in later life.

ROBERT KAREN: Oliver, is it your birthday?

CHILD: My birthday.

ROBERT KAREN: When you have a volatile mix, as we have today in socicry, where entertainment is full of violence, where there is easy access to weapons, where people are feeling left out of the social equation and therefore feeling very little investment in society -- when you add to all this a sense of insecure attachment, where people have the psychology which tells them "No one is going to be there for me," that "I don't matter much," that "I'm not really worth very much and it malces me furious" -- then that volatile mixture becomes a lot more volatile.

NARRATOR: Attachment scholars, like Karen, worry about children walking in the footsteps of a damaged relationship. Insecurely attached children often grow up to be parents who have the same problem with their own children.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Come on, swallow it.

NARRATOR: This is 2-and-a-half-year-old Gabrielle Malcolm. Her mother, Novelette, just can't get her to eat.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: There were time when I yelled. There were times when I cried. I screamed. I quarreled. I spanked.

Come on, baby. Come on. Swallow that.

NARRATOR: This is how meal times have been for two years.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: While you can force the spoon in her mouth, you can't force her to swallow.

INTERVIEWER: How long would she sit with food in her mouth?

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: She could sit with her food in her mouth for three hours.

NARRATOR: This is breakfast. Ten-year-old Robert, once an only child, now often stands at the edge of his mother's attentions while his mother and sister are glued together by the breakfast porridge. There's little space for Dad, Richmond. He can't even get a kiss before he goes to work.

RICHMOND MALCOLM: Okay. Out of here. Okay.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Swallow up. Swallow up. Look at the time. It's 8:00 o'clock almost.

NARRATOR: Gabrielle's mother works so she goes to day care. And it is fun until the food arrives -- spaghetti and meatballs. Gabrielle ignores it.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: God is gracious, God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Is that good?

GABRIELLE: No. Don't want it!

NARRATOR: Then there is dinner -- round three for Gabrielle.

GABRIELLE: I don't want it. Please, Mommy!

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Please, Gabrielle.

GABRIELLE: I don't want it!

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Why not?

GABRIELLE: No!

NARRATOR: The Malcolm family, consumed by Gabrielle's refusal to eat, also turned to the Hinks therapy center for help. In the family assessment meeting, Novelette recounts how her childhood in Jamaica was marked by the absence of her mother.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: It was because she had to work and I guess it's the same thing here. He had to work, so the bond isn't there. So she had to work, so the bond wasn't there. It was my grandma, my aunt, you know, on a day-to-day basis. It was my sister and my older sister and brother.

NARRATOR: For psychiatrist Roy Muir, who will be the Malcolms' therapist, this is significant.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: --so that's why there really wasn't any bond--

ROY MUIR: She very much wants to do better than her own mum did, not that she blames her mother because her mother had to go out to work, but it was not a happy relationship with her own mother when she was very small.

NARRATOR: Then, in just their second meeting, Novelette makes a startling revelation. It turns out that, just lilce Gabrielle, she didn't eat as a child. But because her mother was working, feeding fell to an aunt.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: I can just see my aunt's face. I can see it now and in my mind, I'll be going, "I'm not eating it. I'm not eating it." And I knew that any minute now, the bus is going to come for church and I'm going to get, to get up and leave it because you know, I just have to wait her out.

ROY MUIR: You have to wait her out long enough and the bus will come and you'll win. That's apt.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: You know, like when you're -- when I'm combing her hair here, I'm thinking about whon I was little and I used to give you all that problems to eat, you know?

NARRATOR: Aunt Carmen now lives in Toronto. Tonight she and Novelette reminisce about what a difficult child Novelette was.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: This is the one that is very in my mind, is this time when I was sitting there and I was eating this dumpling. It was in my mouth and I cut this one piece of dumpling and I would just sit there and I was chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing and everybody else got up from the table and I still sat there. You said, "Novelette, aren't you going to finish? Swallow that and finish eating your dinner!"

[to Gabrielle] Swallow what's in your mouth because if you spit it out, I am going to spank you.

[to Aunt Carmen] You'd get the belt. You'd send me for the belt. I'd bring the belt, remember? I'd bring the belt and you'd put it there and say, "If you don't eat. I'm going to spank you."

[to Gabrielle] Look at this child's stomach! I'm getting the belt.

RICHMOND MALCOLM: Yes, go get the belt. Go and get the belt.

AUNT CARMEN: I don't remember gettiog very mad, but I really, you know, don't feel pleased of your actions towards how you eat.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: But when Mama had that to encounter--

AUNT CARMEN: No, she'd get terribly mad. "If you don't come and eat" -- you know--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: "I'm going to spank you" -- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

[to Gabrielle] Did you swallow what's in your mouth yet? Swallow what's in your mouth right now. Right now! Right now!

NARRATOR: The belt is threatened, but never used.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Come on, Gabrielle. Come on right now. Swallow it up. Would you like me to spank you? You see the belt? Then swallow what's in your mouth.

ROY MUIR: The parent-child relationship is stored in our memory systems from far earlier than we remember, than the verbal memories we have. And in many ways, from what we know of the attachment systems, much of the really importaot stuff goes on in the first year and a half and tbat storage is at the automatic level. And what we do -- we now know that what we tend to do as parents is repeat the behavioral patterns that we stored at that level.

NARRATOR: Marceline Brigden is heading for the Hinks. For her and Victoria, the tests are over. Now starts the serious work: the play. Therapist Liz Muir is laying out a room full of toys for Victoria in the belief that an 18-month-old child who can barely speak can still communicate and can somehow show her mother what is really bothering her

LIZ MUIR: Their way of trying to express how they're feeling or give voice to their needs is through play and activity. And so when we are working with babies and toddlers, we pay a lot of attention to that because it's our way of trying to understand. She'll start to see this little girl more objectively, just see her for who she is. And in the course of that, she'll start to understand more and more about what's going on in her mind, what bothers Victoria, what she's struggling with, because Victoria will show us through her play.

NARRATOR: This is Marceline and Victoria's first session in an eight-week program callod "Watch, Wait and Wonder." For the first half of their one-hour visit, Victoria will lead the play. Then there will be discussion. Liz Muir reminds Marceline of the rules.

LIZ MUIR: Okay, do you remember the instructions?

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: Right. Just sit on the floor and keep up contact with her. [crosstalk]

ROY MUIR: Don't take over or initiate any activity. Let her always be the initiator.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: Okay. I remember.

NARRATOR: In a room full of toys, Victoria goes immediately to the doll and the first thing she does is put it to bed. Her mother says she never plays with dolls, but today the child who doesn't sleep is preoccupied with them.

VICTORIA: Babies.

LIZ MUIR: The other thing she was doing with the dolls was she was feeding the dolls with the baby bottles. And Marceline was saying in the session that she's having a struggle, at the moment, not only around feeding at the table, but that she is wanting to help Victoria give up the bottle. So the battle around the bottle is very important, so she fed herself a little bit quickly and furtively, but then she fed the baby. So there are two preoccupations of Marceline's and Nels's right in there, in the play.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: I was really amazed by this. I think it is -- it is exactly.

NARRATOR: In subsequent play sessions, Victoria uses the toys to help her mother understand other things that are bothering her.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She would get this, you know, stethoscope on and she would be, you know, banging it on me and hitting me with it as hard as she could. Liz said to me, "What do you notice about this session?" this one day and I said, "Well, she seems very aggressive with this doctor's kit." And she was trying to hit me with it and I was kind of saying, "No," you know, "don't do this." She said, "Well, how did it make you feel?" I said, "Well, scared that she was going to hit me." And she said, "Well, maybe that's the way she's feeling towards the doctor."

NARRATOR: After just a couple of hours of watching her child play, Marceline begins to understand Victoria's behavior in the doctor's office.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She starts crying, and, you know -- And if he comes in, well, she's just nuts. You know, like, she -- he has to lean on her to hold her down, like, to look at her.

LIZ MUIR: Does he? I see.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: And she'll be kicking him and hitting him and -- and he hasn't done anything to her. Like, he's trying to listen to her heart.

NARRATOR: When Victoria plays "doctor" a few weeks later, she is notably more gentle. It turns out she visited the real doctor this week and Marceline, with her new sensitivity to her daughter's fears, made an extra effort to comfort her.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: I mean, she was upset, but she calmed down very quickly.

It will be interesting over the next couple of weeks to see -- to see what else, you know, comes out -- yeah -- from watching her, just watching her play.

NARRATOR: This is how Gabrielle played on her first visit to the playroom. The child who doesn't eat was eager to feed the doll. It will be a consistent theme of their sessions and, for Roy Muir, it reveals much about Novelette.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Think it's time to put her to sleep now?

ROY MUIR: What was very noticeable was that from the -- right in the very first session -- was that Novelette could not help dictating the terms, correcting the child.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: What are you going to cook? What do you think? What are you going to cook?

GABRIELLE: I'm going to cook some ice cream.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: For breakfast?

GABRIELLE: Yeah.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: No!

GABRIELLE: Yeah!

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: No, no, no. Let's cook some porridge and some toast.

GABRIELLE: Feed your own baby, Mum.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Feed my baby?

GABRIELLE: Yeah.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: What are you feeding your baby?

GABRIELLE: Spaghetti.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Some spaghetti? Oh, yum, yum. I'm going to give my baby some porridge, just like, remember, I gave you some porridge this morning. Oh, boy. She's loving it. Look at that. She's opens up her eyes. She's smiling. She just loves the porridge!

ROY MUIR: And is this the spaghetti or is this the porridge?

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Which one is that, spaghetti or porridge?

GABRIELLE: Porridge.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Oh, it's the porridge. Okay.

ROY MUIR: So you start to see the force of this control and that's the kind of example we saw a number of times. And eventually, this will have to be -- we'll have to find a way where we can talk about this with Mother.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Swallow what's in your mouth.

NARRATOR: Two weeks into therapy, there is little sign of improvement in the Malcolm household.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: What do you have? Let me see, please. Swallow it up, please.

NARRATOR: This meal started an hour ago.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Do you want me to warm it up?

NARRATOR: The food has already been reheated. The beep of the microwave seems as constant as the ticking of a clock.

The family gets ready for bed.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: You are going to your bed hungry.

NARRATOR: The food is unfinished when the camera is switched off. And in therapy, Novelette and Roy are having trouble connecting.

ROY MUIR: I think Gabrielle wishes that it went just as nicely as this went when she and Mummy are having their meal. Do you think she wishes that?

GABRIELLE: I'm going to cover up my baby.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Pardon? You're going to cover up?

ROY MUIR: If we could spend just a -- just a very few minutes now just -- just talking about the session and how it's--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Oh, boy. She said she's taking a rest.

ROY MUIR: We're not going to get too much of a chance to talk about the session, are we.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Okay, you play with the ball while I can talk to Doctor now, okay? It's time for us to go, almost, though. We're finished.

ROY MUIR: Yes, we do actually have to finish now.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Yeah. Yeah.

GABRIELLE: I can't take it out.

ROY MUIR: We'll leave it at that for today and--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: All right.

ROY MUIR: I've wondered whether she really wanted to examine her own behavior in this and its impact on ha daughter and, furthermore, whether she was at all interested in looking at the roots of her own behavior in her past experience--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: If I found out I was a part of the problem, I'd be vay hard on myself. I would be upset at myself because I've already questioned myself. I've said to myself, "Did I start too late in introducing her? Was I persistent enough when she was younger?"

INTERVIEWER: But is it about food?

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: I don't know.

NARRATOR: There are also plenty of clues in Callum's play, though in his first few visits, his preoccupation seems to be falling over. He flails about the room, unable to focus on any one toy. This is among the first observations Liz Muir puts in the Hollett file. The first connection is drawn between his play and his problem.

LIZ MUIR: How much is his lack of relaxation in the play and maybe in bed at night have to do with the lack of relaxation in the relationship?

NARRATOR: In the brief moments when he did focus, however, there was a glimpse of something.

LIZ MUIR: Fairly early on in the piece, there was just a fleeting moment. He had his back to the camera and to his mother and he picked up a little baby's bottle and he put it in his mouth and he kind of looked as if he felt he shouldn't be doing this and put it down again immediately. And I thought it was just the whole way that he did this, that I felt it really was very important. And I thought -- the thought crossed my mind, "There's something here to do with an expression of a particular kind of infantile need or a baby need," something to do with nurturance and around bottles and being fed and things like that.

And then he seemed to ignore it. And then I thought, "Well, maybe I was just imagining it." And then a little bit later, he came back to it and he wanted to feed himself. He wanted to feed his mother and he was feeding the dolls. So he started to elaborate that a little.

And right at the very end of the session, Catherine said something really very important, something that's concerning her, and it relates to a lot of the other things she was discussing in the session, which had to do with her feelings about having to attend to two babies, not one.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Sometimes I kind of feel bad. Like, I nursed Tristan until he was 9 months old and I only nursed him until 4 months becawe I couldn't keep Tristan's schedule of all of Tristan'~ events and things that he does and nurse at the same time because he'd want to nurse and I'd be behind the wheel of a car taking Tristan somewhere.

DIRECTOR: This is a wrap. Thaok you very much for your patience.

NARRATOR: Four-year-old Tristan is a child actor. On this set, he has been playing the role any mother might wish for her son: the world's most perfect child, Christopher Robin. One week into her therapy, Catherine realizes that ahe had also cast Callum in the same role as his brother.

CATHERINE HOLLETT:I started to think that I don't know if l've ever let Callum be Callum. I've -- I think that Callum was born to be Tristan.

NARRATOR: Callum's play provides another due for Liz Muir. He ignores the tame animals among the toys and goes to the wild ones with sharp teeth. The other children show a similar interest in their early sessions.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: What's that -- Scary.

VICTORIA: Ow!

NARRATOR: Attachment theorists see this as a child's way of demonstrating feelings of aggression that come from the frustration of coping with an insecure relationship. And it turns out that aggression is one of Marceline's concerns.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: You don't want her to be too aggressive, though, either, because then I think she'll have trouble socializing with the other children if she's, you know, pushing and, you know -- she's not hitting, she, you know, but maybe it will lead to that -- I don't know -- when she gets older, you know?

NARRATOR: The University of Minnesota, America's foremost center for the study of attachment. Here they have been following more than 200 children from birth. They are now in their 20s. In charting their development, psychologist Allan Sroufe sees a clear connection between insecure attachment and aggression. His work explains how the failure to form sound relationships in infancy can lead to violence in later life.

ALLAN SROUFE:To really understand violence in children, you have to also understand why most children and most people aren't violent and that has to do with a sense of connection or empathy with other people. I mean, usually, a human being doesn't want to hurt another human being because of an empathic sense of connection with that person. And I think this is -- this is something that is based very strongly in the early relationships of the child and maybe most -- maybe most strongly in the earliest years of life.

ROBERT KAREN: When you are in the kind of state, when you feel that feelings don't matter and you are more inclined to feel aggressive and to victimize others, it isn't that big a jump to see where you might also become violent in later years if other aspects of your social conditioning contribute to it -- if you live in a certain kind of neighborhood, have certain kinds of negative influences, have access to weapons. You know, there are a lot of inputs, but I think that, certainly, not having feelings for others is a critical input, as well.

ALLAN SROUFE:To me, aggression is no longer a mystery or a surprise. If you see -- especially if by aggression you mean a child that is filled with malevolence towards other people, is angry and hostile and deliberately seeks to injure others. It's incomprehensible to me to think that that could be a child who had a supportive, nurturant background.

NARRATOR: It has been another bad day for Callum and Catherine and the tension has spilled into the night.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: You've got to stop. This is bad. You're a bad baby. Just stop, for Christ's sake. Go to sleep!

NARRATOR: Collum's father is worried.

ALAN HOLLETT:I could feel that the relationship between the two of them was deteriorating and I was really concerned about where it was going to go. Catherine and I had words about it. I knew she was getting near the end of her patience.

CATHERINE HOLLETT:No. I mean, in fact, we had such a bad day yesterday -- I know this sounds so horrible, but l just -- I left my kids in the house and I got in my car and I thought I was going to leave. Oh, it was so horrible, because when I came in, Tristan's sitting on the floor, crying, going, "Where did you go, Mummy?" And it made me feel even worse. And then that made me -- that made me madder at him becaue Tristan had to suffer because I just sort of reached explosion point.

NARRATOR: But in the discussion, Catherine remembers that for a couple of days after their last play session, Callum was easier to get along with. She starts to wonder.

CATHERINE HOLLETT:I was just sort of making some connections here, also that the two days that were really wonderful, he was playing really differently. Like, he was playing very independently.

LIZ MUIR: Was he?

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Yeah, he was.

NARRATOR: And as she brings Callum to the Hinks in the next two weeks, Catherine begins to understand the lexicon of her 11-month-old.

This is how she gained that understanding.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He sure likes that bean bag.

NARRATOR: She notices that Callum is enjoying the bean bag. He whines a little and Catherine assumm he needs a diaper change. But that is not what he is trying to say. It will be a few weeks yet before his mother gets the message.

The next week, he goes to the bean bag and he gives his mother a look, which she interprets wrongly.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: This is "I'm cuddling something" and looking at me, like, almost like, "Are you jealous?"

NARRATOR: She thinks he is being smart. Three weeks later, she understands.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: He just loves to crawl up on the bed and just cuddle up with you and just kind of fall into the duvet. It's very similar, you know--

LIZ MUIR: Oh, so maybe that's--

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Yeah, that might -- I never thought of that before becawe we've had it for -- for months now.

LIZ MUIR: So maybe rather than just a kind of a -- sort of smug, "Look, see," that might have been an invitation for you to be with him as you--

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Yeah. Yeah.

NARRATOR: It has taken just four hours of therapy for Catherine to realize what her son really wants is her affections.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Really? One, two -- whoa!

He's becoming very cuddly and he's become very -- he's communicating a lot. He's really making an effort to get his thoughts or his needs across to you without screaming.

NARRATOR: At about the same time, Victoria, too, has found a way of communicating without screaming. Out of all her wakeful nights, this is the first time she has reached out for her mother.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She was holding onto my hand fairly -- you know, she had a good grasp of it. And then she grabbed onto my baby finger and was holding my baby finger. And I thought, "Jeez, this is something like a infant -- like a real newborn does." Like, it's something -- and it was I don't know. It was a good feeling. Like, I thought, "Oh, Jeez, she" -- it really -- it felt like she wanted me there. She needed me there.

LIZ MUIR: I think you're right on the point of discovering something really important.

NARRATOR: The discovery was that Marceline was able to comfort her baby in a way that she was never able to before. So for the first time in 18 months, Victoria was able to sleep peacefully through the night.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Come on, take Mommy's finger.

NARRATOR: Callum, too, has a finger-hold on a new sense of security by week four of the play sessions. For Catherine, this simple touch is a powerful event.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: All I have to do is give him my finger and he's perfectly happy. I can walk through a mall with him holding onto my finger and he won't wander off. He'll just hang onto my finger.

I think that something has clicked between Callum and I that has never clicked before. I feel like we've finally bonded for the first time in his whole life.

It's pretty amazing. It's really amazing because I didn't think it was ever going to end. I could just see myself butting heads with this kid until he was 20.

NARRATOR: Parents who keep butting heads with their kids, who rock between criticism and anger, put their children on a path to self-destruction at a very early age, according to psychologist Jack Block of the University of California. He has been studying a group of children for over 20 years.

JACK BLOCK: We can identify certain characteristics of early parenting that have adverse consequences 20 years later, with respect to whether children get into the drug scene too heavily, rather than simply as mild experimenters. And we can also identify the characteristics of parenting that are conducive later on to depressive tendencies. At age 23, we see these characteristics of these young adults and we can look back 20 years, see what was parenting like at that time and see some relations -- relationships between the parenting characteristics at age -- when the child was age 3 and what that child, as a young man, young woman, is like.

NARRATOR: It is week five of the therapy and Novelette's parenting of 3-year-old Gabrielle is about to be challenged. She will remember this moment as a turning point.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: How many?

GABRIELLE: I said one more -- what happened?

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: You know what happened? See these three Mother Hubbards? They're going to have to spend a lot of money for dog food.

Dr. Muir says to me -- he's so sweet. He says to me, "You tell lovely stories, and they're all very educational, but maybe let her tell the story."

ROY MUIR: You're such a great story teller that -- that there's not much room--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: And I thought, "Ouch!" It was so funny! And I kind of looked back and I'm thinking, "Uh-huh, I can see it. I can hear it. I feel it."

ROY MUIR: I would be interested, and I would encourage you to be interested, to--

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Let her--

ROY MUIR: --leave some space to see what fantasy stories she comes up with.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Okay.

He kind of nicely tells me to give her some space, let her be creative, ler her think, let her tell you the story. Shut up and listen.

GABRIELLE: Mommy!

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Okay. Hush.

GABRIELLE: I don't want any more!

NARRATOR: But just three days later, Novelette is not listening.

GABRIELLE: I don't want it!

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Just a little bit.

NARRATOR: Gabrielle complains that her stomach is hurting, but the porridge has to be finished to the last drop.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Stop doing that, Robert. Leave her alone. [singing] Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabrielle-- I am so very proud of my Gabrielle. Look at that! I can't believe it. Oh, my goodness. One more. Look. This is it.

NARRATOR: Gabrielle vomits on the last spoonful.

In the Brigden household there has also been a setback.

LIZ MUIR: This is just a note to say that Marceline had called yesterday to talk about her frustration about the lack of progress. She talked of leaving Victoria with a babysitter and said that she wouldn't settle with a sitter.

BABYSITTER: Mommy and Daddy are going to come soon.

LIZ MUIR: She indicated that both she and Nels were feeling frustrated. I encouraged her to bring these concerns up in the session which we will be having today.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: From August until now, there hasn't been a dramatic change and, like, she's not now, all of a sudden, bang! I can figure out by looking at her, "Well, she's going to sleep through the night," you know, every night.

LIZ MUIR: Right.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: I guess I was kind of hoping that something was going to -- either you were going to say something or -- or point us in some direction or--

LIZ MUIR: Right.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: You know, to help us solve that.

LIZ MUIR: In the discussion that followed, it became clearer that there are, in fact, changes under way. Victoria is eating better, is less of a problem at the table and will now leave the table after she's finished eating, something she wasn't doing before.

NARRATOR: This is Victoria now. Remember how she used to be?

NELS BRIGDEN: Try some more garlic bread?

NARRATOR: For Nels, Marceline, and sister Kimberly, a few weeks have made a big difference.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: [singing] I'm a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle. Here is my spout. When--

NARRATOR: At the Hollett home, Catherine is now enjoying her days with Callum. And out of better days comes the first sign that the night can also be better and can sound better.

LIZ MUIR: For the last two nights, he has slept through the night. Cathy said she realized that she had to forgive Callum for the days before he would settle during the day and that the same thing had to happen before they could deal with the night waking.

NARRATOR: Catherine's forgiveness finds simple expression. Once she dreaded her son's room. Now she goes in to stroke his face.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I would go in and check him while he was sleeping and I'd just kind of go like this. And he'd go -- it was like he knew and he'd just sort of -- there would be this big smile and he'd sort of giggle and -- but he wouldn't wake up.

NARRATOR: There is also a different rhythm to life in the Malcolm home. Novelette is trying to listen to the lessons of eight weeks of therapy. She now spends more time with Robert

ROBERT MALCOLM: Right there, and right there.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Okay, than let's do it again--

NARRATOR: And there are other improvements. Richmond gets to read the bedtime story. Novelette and Gabrielle have made room for him.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: She's asking more for her dad. When we come home from school, she's, like, "Where's my dad?" and "Is he going to come home soon?" Where normally, she couldn't care less.

GABRIELLE: I'm finished, Mommy.

NARRATOR: There are times when Gabrielle is allowed to refuse food.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: No more?

GABRIELLE: No.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Some grapes now?

GABRIELLE: No.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Okay.

NARRATOR: She is allowed cereal at night and asks for more, something her mother would never have imagined.

GABRIELLE: I want some more. Put some more in here.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Pardon me?

GABRIELLE: Put some more.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Some more corn flakes?

GABRIELLE: Yeah.

NOVELETTE MALCOLM: Say, "May I have some more, please?"

I -- I kind of let go some. I haven't let go completely because there are times whan we still have a battle.

What does that mean? I mean -- that means for me to swallow. What does that mean to you? Come. Would you like us to have a fight? Well, then, please.

NARRATOR: The fights aren't as frequent, but they remain evidence of how hard it can be to change a lifetime's behavior.

ROY MUIR: We bring our inheritance with us. We bring out relational inheritance with us and nowhere do we bring it more forcibly than into our parenting. And a lot of people don't realize this. When they -- when they think that parenting comes naturally, they're correct, it does come naturally, but it comes naturally the way you learned it. It doesn't necessarily come naturally to do it differently.

NARRATOR: In the Brigden home, the "Watch, Waiting and Wondering" has worked. Marceline sees a new child in the infant she couldn't cuddle. Just eight hours of therapy have allowed her to see the world from her daughter's point of view.

Attachment theory holds that it is in this loving relationship that the infant finds a template for all other relationships and develops the confidence to explore the world. In ha sleeplessness, Victoria had been grasping for security. She now sleeps through the night and Marceline noticed that the peace came as her play changed.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: She would go to this -- this alligator with these teeth, and always these -- these horrible animals, I mean, and I kept saying, "Jeez, I don't know why she's going to these animals." And she'd always be pointing at the teeth and telling me about the teeth.

VICTORIA: Teeth!

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: In the last couple sessions, she's been going to the other animals.

Birdies.

She's not looking at this alligator anymore.

VICTORIA: The birdie!

NARRATOR: Callum's play has also changed dramatically.

LIZ MUIR: I think if we looked at a tape from the very beginning and a tape now, we would notice quite a vast difference in the activity level of his play. He's concentrating. He's actually focusing on tasks and exploring the toys for pockets of time.

NARRATOR: These are the skills Callum will eventually take to school. There is a connection between secure attachment and academic success, according to psychologist Allan Sroufe.

ALLAN SROUFE: Math achievement at age 16 is predicted by security of your early relationships. But I think the linkage is indirect. We don't find that secure attachment leads to higher intelligence and, in fact, that makes it interesting that it does predict better achievement, because it's not because it makes kids more intelligent. It -- I think it helps children be more confident in themselves and be more resourceful.

NARRATOR: In just eight weeks, this relationship has been turned around. But is it possible that Callum just passed through a developmental phase?

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I think it's entirely possible, but I don't know that our relationship would have been salvaged. You know, maybe, eventually, he would have, but if I hadn't been able to start dealing with all the feelings that I had and how it was affecting us and how it was affecting my relationship with Tristan, I don't know if -- if it would have went as well as it -- as it did. I mean, he might have -- you know, he might have hit 15 months and it would have ended, but would there have been so much damage done, with all the anger and the frustration and -- and that?

INTERVIEWER: Because we are talking only eight weeks, can you change a mother-child relationship feelings in eight weeks?

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I think you can.

ROY MUIR: Well, I think we did.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: I know this just sounds so morbid and awful, but I really didn't like him and I --just like Children's Aid's going to come and take my baby. But I really didn't like him and now I just -- I just adore him.

LIZ MUIR: Is there anything else you want to mention before we part company?

CATHERINE HOLLETT: We finally got our baby.

ALAN HOLLETT: Yeah.

ROBERT KAREN: It's interesting that so little can go so far. There was a wonderful study that was done in the Netherlands in which a psychologist there studied 100 children who were extremely irritable at birth -- and these are the children who are most highly at risk for anxious attachment -- plus they were in low-income families where the mothers were under a lot of stress, financial and otherwise.

The mothers that were given just six hours of instruction on how to cope with their children, who were -- mothers who were observed with their children and helped to be just a little bit different than they were being, those mothers had more than twice the rate of secure attachment to the mothers who were not given that kind of assistance.

And it just gives you a sense of what we could do in society if we wanted to put our efforts there. You know, a lot of our attention tends to go to, "What do we do about the problems after they already exist," you know, once we have, whether it is juvenile offenders or people who aro seem to be permanently on welfare and have no stake in society or who don't care about anything that happens around them. And it costs us a lot of money and it is also very distressing just to live with people who -- who are like this. We give very little thought to investing early on to having the sort of citizens who we would be proud to live next door to us and raise children in our building.

BRIGDEN FAMILY: [singing] Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Victoria, happy birthday to you.

NARRATOR: On Victoria's second birthday, there is much to celebrate.

MARCELINE BRIGDEN: Oh, I think it's great. I'm very happy that -- that she's so happy and I -- you know, it's really -- it's amazing that that could happen so quickly, too.

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Say good night.

TRISTAN: Good night, baby!

CATHERINE HOLLETT: Okay, guys. Let's go. Good night, baby. Go to sleep now. Kiss, kiss.

NARRATOR: Callum has now been sleeping through the night for 16 weeks. So, too, has Victoria.

 

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS

PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
NEIL DOCHERTY

REPORTER
HANA GARTNER

RESEARCH
SHEILA PIN

NARRATED BY
WILL LYMAN

CAMERA
JOHN GRIFFIN

SOUND
WES BLANCHARD
ED CHONG

EDITOR
LES ONODY

PRODUCTION MANAGER
ALEX POWELL

ONLINE EDITOR
GARY AKENHEAD

SOUND MIX
PAUL DALEY
DAVID PORTER

COORDINATING PRODUCER
BRIGITTE-AYOTTE THOMPSON

UNIT MANAGER
MARIE-FRANCOISE RAFFOUGEAU

VISUAL RESEARCH
ANITA TURCOTTE

ASSISTANT PRODUCTION MANAGER
DEBORAH CARTER-KELLY

PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
SALLY SHIGEISHI
SUZANNE MAYER

REMOTE CAMERAS INSTALLED AND PROVIDED BY
INTERCON SECURITY LIMITED

SPECIAL THANKS
HICKS INSTITUTE

CAMERA OPERATORS
BROOKE MACDONALD
JOHN DOUCETTE

SENIOR PRODUCER FOR CBC
SUSAN TESKEY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER FOR CBC
DAVID STUDER

© 1995 CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

 

FOR FRONTLINE

POST PRODUCTION MANAGER
ROBIN PARMELEE

PRODUCTION MANAGER
HESH SHOREY

POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
COLLEEN WILSON

OFF-LINE EDITOR
ROBERT MARSHALL

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
ANDREA DAVIS

ON-LINE EDITORS
MARK STEELE
JIM DEERING

FRONTLINE THEME
MASON DARING
MARTIN BRODY

SERIES GRAPHICS
DENNIS O'REILLY
JACK FOLEY

CLOSED CAPTIONING
THE CAPTION CENTER

STAFF PRODUCERS
JUNE CROSS
JIM GILMORE
JON PALFREMAN

STAFF REPORTER
JOE ROSENBLOOM III

ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
COURTNEY HAYES
MICHELLE NICHOLASEN

SENIOR RESEARCHER
MIRI NAVASKY

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
KATHLEEN BOISVERT

COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
JIM BRACCIALE

SENIOR PUBLICIST
STEPHANIE MURPHY

PROMOTION ASSISTANT
EILEEN WARREN

PROJECT SECRETARY
KEN COWAN

EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
ANNE DEL CASTILLO

UNIT MANAGERS
ROBERT O'CONNELL
JANEL RANNEY

DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION
KAJ FUJITA

SERIES EDITOR
MARRIE CAMPBELL

SENIOR PRODUCER
MICHAEL SULLIVAN

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
DAVID FANNING

PRODUCED BY THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION IN ASSOCIATION WITH WGBH/FRONTLINE

© 1995
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED